Watson in prime position to take a shot at history

Veteran starts final day with a lead of one but that may be enough to tear up all the record books.

This is getting serious. Tom Watson is on the brink of golf's most stunning victory. This afternoon he will take a one-shot lead into the final round of the 138th Open Championship. If he prevails, the 59-year-old will not merely rewrite the record books. He will reclassify his sport and what is and is not considered possible.

Not only would Watson become the oldest major winner in history (by a staggering 11 years) he would become the oldest winner of a top-flight professional event anywhere in the world (by an equally staggering seven years). And then there would be the six Claret Jugs in his possession. Watson would be equalling the haul of Harry Vardon.

But more than any of this, he would be the veteran who showed there is life way after supposed golfing death. Two months before his 60th birthday, this would be the ultimate win for the aged. Most deliciously the Royal and Ancient would have to alter their policy of not allowing over-60s to play and grant him a 10-year exemption to compete until he was 69.

Yet whatever comes to pass on his cherished Ailsa Course, Watson has already achieved the inconceivable. A 71 yesterday gave him a four-under total to send him clear. When the 53-year-old Greg Norman led after last year's third round at Birkdale everyone agreed nothing like that would ever happen again. Oh yeah? Well, here we are the very next year and Watson happens to be six years older than the evergreen Aussie.

Of course, Norman's creaking bones could not last the course on that surreal occasion and they were queuing up around the doglegs here last night to say neither will Watson's. Let them doubt, says Watson, who firmly denied he's in dreamland. "Why do I have to pinch myself, I'm awake already," he said. "You know, the first day here they said, 'yeah, let the old geezer have his day in the sun'. The second day they said, 'that's OK, that's OK'. And now today they kind of perk up the ears and say, 'this old geezer might actually have a chance to win the tournament'."

The bookmakers believe. Watson's odds have fallen from 1,500-1 to 6-1 and that might be good value. Certainly any naysayers cannot have been watching as Watson, for the second day running, ignored the fatigue and waited until the end of the round to produce the surge. By the 16th he had squandered a two-shot lead to fall one behind Mathew Goggin. But then he wielded that magical putter and after holing a 70-footer on that green the night previous, he once again found the cup. It might have been half the distance but it was not an inch shorter in terms of drama.

The came the 17th and a bounce straight from the Gods. On Friday, Watson admitted sensing a "certain spirtituality" at this course where he so famously beat Jack Nicklaus in the "Duel in the Sun" in 1977. We all knew exactly what he meant when his second shot to the par-five took a kindly hop from a bank to the right of the green and veered across towards the flag. For a second, his eagle putt seemed about to drop, but that would, perhaps, have been too much. No matter, it was a tap-in birdie and major Tom was in control again.

What made it all the more astonishing was the severity of the Turnberry test. Winds of up to 25mph had once again played havoc with the ball-flight. Some 21 players had began the day under par, but now there are only seven in red. The pin positions have verged on the ridiculous, making it more a challenge of the mind and nerve. Watson has remained impervious – "serene" as he put it – swept along on his tide of nostalgia. His putter, so often the bane of his career, has consented to be his best friend, while his driver has been almost as obliging. And when it has gone awry and when Turnberry thought he would at last take his gracious leave from the leaderboard so he has come again. Time and time again.

It was easy just to see Watson's name up there and ignore the rest. Easy, but for a British observer, unwise. For there flanking Watson on three under is Ross Fisher (pictured left) and one shot further back is Lee Westwood. Both will have entered their slumber last night feeling this might be the best chance of Open glory they will ever enjoy. Britain has not had such an opportunity of ending the 10-year barren run stretching back to Paul Lawrie's win at Carnoustie in 1999.

After Watson, Fisher remains the most heart-warming tale. At home in Cheam his wife is four days late with their first child. Her husband swears that he will jump on the private jet on stand-by at Prestwick Airport to be by her side.

That would now be some decision. Since finishing fifth in last month's US Open at Bethpage, the 28-year-old product from a Wentworth scholarship scheme has looked a major performer.

Yesterday, he shrugged off bogeys on the 12th and the 14th to stage what has become his traditional finish here. Fisher has owned these last three holes as he confirmed with birdies at the 16th and 17th for a 70 to stand alongside the unheralded Australian Goggin. Westwood, however, may emerge as the best home hope. There has not been a more patient golfer in the field and his own 70 was another display of consummate professionalism.

Apart from an error on the 18th when he went for the pin and found thick rough instead of heeding the advice of his caddie, Billy Foster, Westwood, in his own words "played fairways and middle of the greens". That will be his gameplan again today. "I do think I'm ready to win an Open," said the 36-year-old. "Having been in contention at the US Open last year, and after playing that last round with Tiger, I learnt a lot. I can carry that on into tomorrow."

Westwood will need every bit of know-how he can muster as there is not only an inspired countryman and a golden old gent in his path. Also on two-under is the South African Retief Goosen, while just behind on one-under are two grizzled American campaigners in Jim Furyk and Stewart Cink. In fact, there are 25 players within six shots of the lead and this could turn into a veritable stampede.

But first they will all have to get past the man with the eight-month-old hip and the 59-year-old talent. "I know my friend Jack will be watching tomorrow," said Watson. "And it would be something special if I did what I intend to do." Special would not begin to describe it.

Leaderboard

(GB or Ire unless stated; *Amateur)

206

Tom Watson (US) 65 70 71

207

Matthew Goggin (Aus) 66 72 69

Ross Fisher 69 68 70

208

Lee Westwood 68 70 70

Retief Goosen (SA) 67 70 71

209

Jim Furyk (US) 67 72 70

Stewart Cink (US) 66 72 71210

Bryce Molder (US) 70 73 67

Thongchai Jaidee (Thai) 69 72 6

211

Richard S Johnson (Swe) 70 72 69

Boo Weekley (US) 67 72 72

Angel Cabrera (Arg) 69 70 72

Steve Marino (US) 67 68 76

212

Thomas Aiken (SA) 71 72 69

Paul McGinley 71 71 70

Graeme McDowell 68 73 71

Henrik Stenson (Swe) 71 70 71

Francesco Molinari (It) 71 70 71,

Justin Rose 69 72 71

Chris Wood 70 70 72

John Daly (US) 68 72 72

Branden Grace (SA) 67 72 73

Camilo Villegas (Col) 66 73 73

James Kingston (SA) 67 71 74

Vijay Singh (Fiji) 67 70 75

Kenichi Kuboya (Japan) 65 72 75

213

Luke Donald 71 72 70

Steve Stricker (US) 66 77 70

Oliver Wilson 72 70 71

David Howell 68 73 72

Peter Hanson (Swe) 70 71 72

*Matteo Manassero (It) 71 70 72

Ernie Els (SA) 69 72 72

Justin Leonard (US) 70 70 73

Nick Dougherty 70 70 73

Martin Kaymer (Ger) 69 70 74

JB Holmes (US) 68 70 75

Miguel Angel Jimenez (Sp) 64 73 76

Mark Calcavecchia (US) 67 69 77

214

Nick Watney (US) 71 72 71

Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (Sp)

69 72 73

Soren Hansen (Den) 68 72 74

215

Thomas Levet (Fr) 71 73 71

Soren Kjeldsen (Den) 68 76 71

Billy Mayfair (US) 69 73 73

Kevin Sutherland (US) 69 73 73

Davis Love III (US) 69 73 73

Andres Romero (Arg) 68 74 73

Anthony Wall 68 72 75

Richard Sterne (SA) 67 73 75

Sergio Garcia (Sp) 70 69 76

Jeff Overton (US) 70 69 76

216

Johan Edfors (Swe) 71 73 72

Paul Broadhurst 70 72 74

Tom Lehman (US) 68 74 74

217

Robert Allenby (Aus) 70 74 73

Rory McIlroy 69 74 74

David Drysdale 69 73 75

218

Graeme Storm 72 72 74

Paul Casey 68 76 74

Sean O'Hair (US) 68 75 75

Kenny Perry (US) 71 72 75

Zach Johnson (US) 70 71 77

219

Stuart Appleby (Aus) 71 72 76

Padraig Harrington 69 74 76

Fredrik Jacobson (Swe) 70 72 77

Fredrik Andersson Hed (Swe)

71 70 78

220

Paul Lawrie 71 73 76

Darren Clarke 71 71 78

221

Mark O'Meara (US) 67 77 77

Paul Goydos (US) 72 72 77

222

Ryuji Imada (Japan) 74 69 79

Daniel Gaunt (Aus) 76 67 79

Oldest golfers to win a Major

Julius Boros: 1968 US PGA 48 years, 4 months, 18 days

Jack Nicklaus: 1986 Masters 46 years, 2 months, 23 days

Old Tom Morris: 1867 Open 46 years, 99 days

Hale Irwin: 1990 US Open 45 years, 15 days old

Roberto de Vicenzo: 1967 Open 44 years, 93 days

Harry Vardon: 1914 Open 44 years, 41 days

Raymond Floyd: 1986 US Open 43 years, 9 months, 11 days

Ted Ray: 1920 US Open 43 years, 4 months, 16 days old

At the 1965 Greater Greensboro Open, Sam Snead, at 52, became the oldest winner on the PGA Tour. The oldest European Tour winner is Ireland's Des Smyth, who won in Madeira at age 48.

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